Alternatives to the history taught by the big studios, this blog is about independent animation, fine arts animation, international animation, and experimental animation history.
Jessica Coombs"Into the Seine"The year is 1888 and the doors of the Cinema Optique are opening for the first time in Paris. A large group has gathered out in the street waiting anxiously to be let inside. One man can be overheard whispering about what new treasures lay inside the old building “amazing wax faces and moving figures that will dance right before your eyes.” His conversation is cut short by the abrupt opening of the theater’s doors. A man quickly appears, his suit is clean and pressed and his hair though unruly has been combed down for tonight’s presentation. With a grandiose wave he encourages the huge mass of people into the theater.Charles Emil Reynaud•Born in 1844 to a horologer and metal engraving father and an accomplished idealist mother •Taught as a engineer, Emil became very interested photography and sculpture and apprenticed in both•Soon his interests gave way to projection and it is in this field that he made most of his advancements•On December 21st 1877 Emil patented his Praxinosocpe which was improvement on the Zoetrope and Phenakistiscope which allowed for almost hour long films to be projected using a complex reel system and mirrors•Compelled by the artistic possibilities of his creation he opens the Theater Optique in Paris France to showcase the magnificent films he createsThe theater Optique draws great crowds and presents magical films to captivated audiences for years. Emile presents all of the films himself, and runs the large Praxinoscopes behind the screens with deft agility. Though popular and profitable soon the theater Optique develops new competitors which prove to be a great challenge for Emile and his Parxinoscope. As the years pass, interest in his films begins to dwindle and Emile struggles to keep up with the changing technologies. It is a battle he will loose, one which by 1900, will drive him almost to the brink of insanity and will cause him to destroy his own theater in a fit of depression and rage, throwing his beloved work furiously in the Seine River to end his carrier.Sources:http://animation.filmtv.ucla.edu/program/anihist.htmlhttp://www.victorian-cinema.net/reynaud.htm
Mary Fessenden“The Cinemagician: The Life and Times of Georges Méliès” 1923, Paris. The powerful Pathé film company has foreclosed on pioneering filmmaker George Méliès’s studio and theatre property, ordering the mandatory sale of everything from props and costumes to equipment. Junk dealers walk off with bits and pieces of film history. With nothing but his film negatives left, and no place to store them, Méliès breaks down in a fit of utter frustration and anger and orders his assistants to burn the negatives.Cut to interior apartment in the Chateau d’Orly, which has been converted into a retirement home for veterans of the early film industry. It’s 1932. George Méliès is seated on a worn love seat next to his long-time mistress and second wife Charlotte Stephanie Faes (who acted in many of Méliès’s films using the stage name Jehanne d’Alcy). Méliès is mustachioed and goateed, looking older than his 71 years would indicate, but still conveying a man enamored of magic and whimsy, a slight twinkle in his eye, full of hand gestures as he speaks, a Wizard of Oz sort of fellow. Jehanne is a stunning older woman, simply dressed in 1930s blouse and slacks, and is distracted by her eight-year old granddaughter, Madeleine, who periodically pops in and out of the scene as if in one of Méliès’s trick films. The couple, who live off the meager proceeds of a small toy store at the Montparnasse station, is being interviewed by a documentary filmmaker who is making a film about Méliès’s life.Considered the father of Film Fantastique, Méliès studied stage illusionism in the 1880s and opened his own venue for stage magic, the Theatre Robert-Houdin, in 1888. After attending the famous Lumiere Brothers’ cinematographe show at the Grand Café in 1895, Méliès purchased his own projector and started showing films at his theatre, and shortly thereafter, making his own. He pioneered the use of the stop trick, or substitution, multiple exposures, hand-painting of film, time lapse photography, and the use of elaborately painted backdrops. He acted in many of his own films. Between 1896 and 1914, he made over 500 films. His most famous, A Trip to Moon, made in 1902 in slight parody of the work of Jules Verne, is considered one of the most important early science fiction films.But the cut-throat practices of his contemporaries, like Thomas Edison, the rapid changes in the ways of producing films, the devastating effects of WWI, and the Salieri-like sabotage by editor Ferdinand Zecca, who is said to have butchered Méliès’s last six films so as to secure his own job at the Pathé Company, rendered Méliès a has-been by the mid-teens.The film unfolds by intercutting significant scenes from Méliès’s life (including his “rediscovery” in 1929) with fictional interviews with his contemporaries (Edison, Charles Pathé, D.W. Griffith), as well as real interviews with current day artists who have been influenced by Méliès, including the musical group The Smashing Pumpkins (whose music video, “Tonight, Tonight,” is shot like a Méliès’s film); legendary French filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard (who referenced Méliès in his film la Chinoise), and South African artist and animator William Kentridge (who pays homage to Méliès in one of his animations). Many interviews are conducted with elaborately painted back-drops—like the ones GM made for his films--set-up behind the interviewees. Throughout the film, techniques pioneered by GM are utilized, and conventions of time and place are disregarded. Periodically, fantastic figures from GM’s films—goblins, skeletons, giant marionettes, and fairies—appear.The film ends with an interview with D.W. Griffith, who when asked of what importance Méliès’s work was to him, replies “I owe him everything.”Sources:Film: An International History of the Medium by Robert Sklarhttp://www.mshepley.btinternet.com.ukhttp://www.victorian-cinema.nethttp://en.wikipedia.org
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Out from underneath a car rolls a greasy haired boy. In his mid teens, Earl Hurd, is a strapping young fellow from queens new york, who has all the girls swooning for him. But every free chance earl gets he's drawing in one of his notebooks. Some of his better work, his boss displays in the auto repair shop. As Earl rolls out from underneath the car, an older gentleman is admiring his work. The gentleman is famous cartoonist J. R. Bray, who offers to send Earl to art school if Earl agrees to work for him afterwards. And so, time passes as the two men form a strong bond and J. R. starts an animation studio, which Earl becomes an animator for upon graduation. However, their studios layed back style, is threatened by Paul Terry's TerryToons Studios, who is able to put out a new cartoon everyweek. He does this by running his studio like a sweatshop. J. R. needs to find a way to keep his studio open, and not be defeated by TerryToons poor quality high quantity animations. J. R. call Earl into his corner office with giant windows and confides that he will have to shut down the studio if they can't find a way to make more cartoons. Earl, deeply concerned both for his job and his career but also for his mentor's life's work, begins to pace about the office. As he walks around staring out the window into the city scape Earl has a revelation, he reaches into his pocket and draws one of his animated characters on J. R.'s window. J. R. is very confused and now more concerned that Earl has just ruined a very expensive window. But, his fears are quashed when Earl demands J. R. walk by the window while starring at the character. J. R. does this and realizes it looks like the character is gliding along a city street. Earl then continues to explain that they don't need to redraw backgrounds if they draw their characters on glass instead. And with that J. R. dashes to his desk and grabs a catalogue of Eastman Kodak and shows Earl, their new product, Celluloid, and then they hug.Sources"Bray Productions," Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bray_Studios (viewed 2 July 2006)"Terry, Paul (cartoonist)," Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Terry_%28cartoonist%29 (viewed 2 July 2006)"Terrytoons," Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terrytoons (viewed 2 July 2006)"Aesop's Film Fables," Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aesop%27s_Film_Fables> (viewed 2 July 2006)"Cel," Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Animation_cel (viewed 2 July 2006)"Lantz, Walter," Toonpedia, http://www.toonopedia.com/lantz.htm (viewed 2 July 2006)
Rebekka Grohn“Trick Film”It is 1941. An aging Albert Smith receives a call from a shaken woman, while lounging at his estate outside of L.A. Blackton is dead. Smith, not having seen Blackton since the 1929 stock market crash is unable to control his emotions and begins to cry. The movie flashes back to an entirely different time and place.We see two men smoking cigars in a crowded parlor in Paris. Through the clouds of smoke, we are focused onto Blackton, a young, mischievously handsome man in the corner of the parlor. As the noise in the parlor reaches a maximum, his eyes flicker with excitement; though the two old men do not realize, Blackton has found the information that he needs. Slowly walking out of the crowed parlor he is hit with a wall of fresh air, his face opens in a toothy grin; Blackton has found the ultimate vaudeville performance act. Set in bustling New York in the turn of the Century, the story chronicles the lives of best friends J. Stuart Blackton, and Albert E. Smith, two young vaudeville performers in hopes of creating the most spectacular performance to reach New York. Through vaudeville performance tricks, Blackton and Smith discover the secrets of the Melies brothers of Paris as well as snag a chance to meet up with Thomas Edison. After his secret encounter with the Melies brothers in 1900, Blackton creates “The Enchanted Drawing” using the replacement technique secretly learned in the smoky Parisian parlor. The technique works. The crowds go wild. The Enchanted Drawing is a huge success.Next, Blackton meets up with Thomas Edison by staging as a false reporter. Soon after, the enthusiastic friends acquire a vitascope from Edison and set off to create their newest act. In 1906 Blackton creates “Humorous Phases of Funny Faces,” it’s a hit. The boys have made it. But Smith wants more.As the pressure of fame and fortune increases, the once best childhood friends are forced to question how deep their friendship really lies. Smith, lured by the pressures of money and a demanding family, seeks wealth and success from Blackton’s animations. While Blackton, the creative hand behind the new found success, comes to terms with years of abuse at home. He must decide whether to leave his beloved vaudeville, which has served as an escape from reality. In a triumph over his abused past Blackton creates “The Haunted Hotel” in 1907, in which he uses 3-D animation for the first time in the US. However, time and conflicting motives cause the friends to drift apart and in 1941. As Smith reminisces over the glorious days of the early 1900s he must also discover the poverty and hardships secretly faced by Blackton in the last years of his life. Works CitedA Rather Incomplete but Still Fascinating History of Animation. Mc Laughlin, Dan. http://animation.filmtv.ucla.edu/program/anihist.html. Copyright: 2001.America’s Story. The Library of Congress: Blackton-The Father of Animation. http://www.americaslibrary.gov/cgi-bin/page.cgi/sh/animation/blcktn_1. Updated:2006.Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia: J. Stuart Blackton. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/J._Stuart_Blackton. Updated: Feb. 2006.
Lotte Reiniger“Fanfares! Trumpets!” a bunny shouts from a castle teaming with elegant people clothed in satin, beset with rubies. Slowly, colors fade to black and white. Then the detail retracts, leaving silhouettes of the scene– silhouettes of paper puppets. We soak up a second of the sparkling castle in its animated silhouette form, before -- a drastic cut. Silence! Suddenly we stare into the wide eyes of a woman who has been woken abruptly in the midst of a creative dream. “We can’t get out.” says a male voice off-screen.The woman whose brown eyes we see, are those of German paper puppet silhouette animator Lotte Reiniger (1899-1981). A bio-pic about her adventurous life is well over-due. Adolescence and womanhood spent in the midst of the two big wars of the last century, she was a successful teller of stories at a time when women were not successful and Germans forgot their innocent fairytales. With leftist political ideals and many Jewish friends and supporters, Reiniger kept on the move all throughout Europe during World War II in a decade of flight from the Nazis. The last two years of the war were spent in the belly of the dragon, where she and her husband nevertheless miraculously managed to transform dreams into realities in the form of 12 animated shorts.Reiniger’s life captures all the elements of a Hollywood blockbuster. As a teenager, Reiniger made an impression on influential artist and celebrity actor Paul Wegener who became her first steady supporter and mentor. In a creative realm dominated by men, young Reiniger was able to make a name for herself with her staple skill – animating paper silhouette cut-outs. Wegener introduced his protégé to a group of creative male peers, among them Reiniger’s future husband Carl Koch with whom she produced her first film Das Ornament des verliebten Herzens (The Ornament of the Enamoured Heart) in 1919. Her solidifying film, the full-length silhouette animation Die Geschichte des Prinzen Achmed (The Adventures of Prince Achmed), resulted from a chance gift by a Jewish friend and supporter. The success of this film enabled her to venture into live-action directing in Die Jagd nach dem Glück (The Pursuit of Happiness) in 1929. Yet with the Nazis on the rise, many Jewish friends and leftist political tendencies, Reiniger began a decade-long flight from the Nazis in 1933. What began as a search for a permanent resident visa deteriorated into the denial of so much as a travel visa by the Nazi government. For the last two years of the war, Reiniger and Koch lived and worked in Nazi Berlin. Despite all odds, they produced 12 animated films in this time. They survived the war and moved to England where Reiniger was able to maintain her success by working for the BBC. Hers is a story of triumph in the face of oppression – an example of how film can create beauty even in the midst of fear and horror. What message could be more in the interest of a bio-pic?
“Thomas Edison was a genius,” opens the narrator in a Morgan Freeman-esque voice. “A symbol of US intellect and hard work for certain.” he continues, “However, he was not perceived as a god by everyone. This is the story of Louis Le Prince, a man who found himself racing alongside the powerhouse Edison and his men to invent a functional camera.”Louis Le Prince was born in Metz, France in 1842. After going to college for physics and chemistry in Germany, he found work as a photographer and painter in Leeds, England. In 1866, he began working with John Whitley, an engineer, and married Whitley’s sister, Elizabeth, in 1869. Shortly after, the married couple founded the School of Applied Art in Park Square in Leeds. Louis seemed to find his calling in the arts. Eadweard Muybridge’s series of pictures of running horses first gave him inspiration for a device to capture motion. Along with his brother-in-law, Louis set to out to work on the new device in New York. This work hurt his finances, but he loved it and his family seemed happy. He succeeded in creating the single lens camera in 1886 and by November he had a US patent on it. In May, 1887, he went back to England to perfect his device while his family stayed in America. In October of the next year he filmed the famous Roundhay garden scene. His competitors had better resources, especially Edison with Menlo Park, but Le Prince was ahead of the game. Le Prince had won the race and was content to go back to his family in New York. On September 16, 1890, Louis boarded a train to France to take care of some unknown business with plans to travel back to the States soon after. Louis Le Prince and his bags were never seen again. What happened? Was it suicide? He seemed stable enough, but he had been away from his family for a few years and his finances were bad. Did he just disappear to avoid his monetary problems? Was foul play involved? The invention was long sought after by many other men, including Edison. Could Louis have been threatened by Edison?We jump forward twelve years, where we have a scene of Louis’s son, Adolphe, recounting the time he vehemently testified for his father’s US patent. He goes on to say how much he hates Edison and his people. A few hours later, we witness the murder by gunshot of an unsuspecting Adolphe. We fast forward to 1908, to a scene where Edison and his attorneys are celebrating the decision to award the US patent to Edison. The movie ends with Edison toasting to their hard work ethic.The narrator sums up the movie, “Edison, a man who said, ‘Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration.’ seems to have forgotten a key ingredient to genius: spilled blood. Or maybe he hasn’t. You be the judge.” Sourceshttp://web.archive.org/web/19991128020048/http://www.bbc.co.uk/education/local_heroes/biogs/biogleprince.shtml, BBC Education, “Louis Le Prince”http://www.acmi.net.au/AIC/LE_PRINCE_BIO.html, Adventures in Cybersound, “Louis Aimé Augustin (Edmée Auguste) Le Prince”, by E. Kilburn Scotthttp://www.precinemahistory.net/1885.htm, The History of the Discovery of Cinematography: Chapter 13, “Louis Le Prince”
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